Grilling "Au Pif"

Sometimes recipes and meals just come together from what you have on hand. The French call that cooking "au pif." 

I was out to prove that you can also grill that way.  So, I looked in my garden, and the heirloom Pencil Pod yellow wax beans

(grown from seed from Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa) were ready to harvest.

I foraged in my backyard, and picked up lots of seasoned pin oak twigs (any hardwood like oak, fruit woods, hickory, maple, or even dried domestic or wild grapevines would also work).

I peeked in my garage, and there was plenty of charcoal.

And when I checked my refrigerator, I had chopped pancetta, a bunch of green onions, and--whoa!--a wild-caught salmon fillet with the skin still on one side.

So, the entree came together as

Oak-Roasted Salmon with Stir-Grilled Pencil Pod Beans, Pancetta, and Scallions

And it was delicious! A glass of crisp white wine or a mellow pinot noir, and life is good. No heavy sauces, just the honest flavors of wood smoke and caramelization.

Here is what I did.  

Oak Roasted Salmon

Salmon grilled this way is no muss, no fuss, all-delicious. You don't have to turn the salmon and it holds together beautifully because the skin is still on, but crispy after grilling. You can also do this, however, with a skinless fillet--just make sure you brush the underside well with olive oil, too.  The salmon takes on a smoky flavor but is crispy in parts as well. 

1 wild-caught salmon fillet, skin on one side, trimmed to fit on your grill
Olive oil for brushing
Salt and pepper

1. Prepare an indirect fire in your grill, with the heat on one side and no heat on the other. I used a small Weber kettle grill, but you could do the same on a gas grill. The salmon needs to cook next to but not over the heat.

I started the charcoal in a charcoal chimney

2. When the coals have ashed over, add hardwood twigs, pieces, or chunks to the coals.

3. When you see the first wisp of smoke, place the salmon on the indirect or no-heat side, the skin side of the salmon on the grill grates. 

Close the lid of the grill and roast for 35 to 45 minutes or until the salmon turns opaque, is milky on the top, and begins to flake when tested with a fork in the thickest part.

While you're waiting for the salmon to finish, you can prep the beans.

Stir-Grilled Pencil Pod Beans, Pancetta, and Scallions

The traditional recipe for yellow wax beans usually involves the sweet/sour German method of cooking bacon and onion together, then adding vinegar, then tossing with teh cooked beans.  This updated recipe just mixes that up a little bit. You can double this recipe, if you like.  The beans will take about 5 minutes longer to cook.

2 cups yellow wax or green beans, tops trimmed
1 bunch scallions  cut into 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup chopped pancetta
Salt and pepper
Balsamic vinegar

1.  When the salmon is done, remove it to a platter and tent with foil to keep warm. Add more wood and charcoal to the fire, if necessary.

2. Place the beans, scallions, and pancetta in a grill wok, which is a metal grill gadget that has holes punched in the surface to the good grill flavors come through without ingredients spilling out. You can find grill woks at hardware and big box stores.

3. When you see the first wisp of smoke, place the grill wok on the direct heat side. Close the lid of the grill and grill for 3 minutes. Toss the ingredients with two long-handled wooden spoons or two long-handled grill paddles. Close the lid and keep grilling and tossing the ingredients 

until the beans are crisp-tender and a little charry, about 15 to 20 minutes total.  Transfer the beans to a serving dish, season with salt and pepper, and pass the balsamic vinegar at the table so guests can sprinkle a little on their stir-grilled beans.

For more stir-grilling recipes and ideas, check out

Too Hot to Cook Day

It's 105 sizzling degrees in Kansas City and we're having a "grill advisory" because of drought conditions.

That means it's too hot to cook and too dry to grill without tempting fate.  So what's a foodie to do?






This easy dip, adapted from a recipe by the Barefoot Contessa, is delicious with raw veggies from the garden, crackers, or spread on grilled flatbread (see June's blog posts)  topped with crumbled bacon and chopped tomatoes.  

I've even slathered it on my morning toast, but then I'm a blue cheese person devoted to Maytag.

Clockwise, from the 12 o'clock position on the photo, you see fresh chives, Greek yogurt (I use 0% fat Fage), chopped shallots, mayonnaise (I used Trader Joe's), Maytag blue cheese, fresh lemon juice, and minced garlic in the middle of it all.  

A few seconds in the food processor or blender, and you've got the perfectly delicious entree for Too Hot to Cook Day. Surround the bowl with green and purple endive leaves, rounds of yellow summer squash, fresh zucchini spears, cherry tomatoes, bell pepper strips, raw mushrooms, or whatever fresh veggies you like.

Maytag Blue Cheese Dip with Fresh Chives and Shallots
adapted from Barefoot Contessa: How Easy Is That? by Ina Garten

Makes 2 cups  

1/4 cup chopped shallots
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 (7-ounce) container Greek yogurt (such as Fage Total)
1/2 cup good mayonnaise
4 ounces Maytag blue cheese, crumbled
4 to 5 dashes bottled hot sauce
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 tablespoons minced chives plus more for garnish

Place the shallot, garlic, lemon juice, Greek yogurt, mayonnaise, blue cheese, hot sauce, salt and pepper in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse the food processor until the mixture is smooth and just slightly chunky, about 11 to 12 times.

Add the chives and pulse 2 to 3 times more. Transfer the dip to a bowl, cover, and chill for 2 hours.  You can eat this right away and it's delicious, but it tastes even better if you let the flavors develop. 

Serve in the center of a tray of vegetables. Cover and refrigerate any leftover dip (as if!).

A Flight of Snow Cones

For a simple summer treat, nothing beats a snow cone.   

Lindsay Laricks, of Fresher than Fresh Snow Cones, is a graphic designer from 9 to 5. But on the weekends, she pulls her vintage Shasta trailer 

to spots around town and serves up summer’s best refresher—gourmet snow cones.

These aren't day-glo syrups made from artificial ingredients, but homemade concotions with garden flavors : Ginger Rose, Blackberry Lavender, Watermelon Basil, and Green Tea Pear. 

You can order a flight of mini-snow cones, served in small paper containers, or a big one all to yourself. If you’re not fortunate enough to live in the Kansas City area, you can still make a trio of snow cones at home for a fun dessert that will beat the heat.

A Trio of Snow Cones
You can make these syrups up to 1 week ahead and keep them in the refrigerator.  You'll have a rosy pink, a pale green, and dark purple trio of icy goodness.
Serves 4
1/2 cup Rosy Rhubarb Syrup (below) 
1/2 cup Fresh Herb Syrup (below)
1/2 cup Blackberry Lavender Syrup (below)
4 cups chopped or shaved ice (in the food processor or with an attachment to a stand mixer)
1. Mound 1/3 cup of shaved ice in each of 12 small glass bowls or ramekins. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of Rosy Rhubarb Syrup over each of 4 bowls; 2 tablespoons of Fresh Herb Syrup over each of another 4 bowls; and 2 tablespoons of Blackbery Lavender Syrup over each of the last 4 bowls. 

Rosy Rhubarb Syrup
4 cups chopped rhubarb, fresh or frozen and thawed
1 cup water
2 cups sugar
The juice of 2 lemons
1. For the syrup, place the rhubarb and water in a saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. 

Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and cook the rhubarb until tender and pulpy, about 10 minutes.  Strain off the rhubarb pulp, reserving the juice. Measure the juice and add enough water to equal 2 cups. Return the liquid to the saucepan over medium-high heat and stir in the sugar. Bring to a boil so the sugar dissolves, about 8 minutes. Remove from the heat, stir in the lemon juice, and let cool. 

Fresh Herb Syrup
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup fresh, aromatic herb leaves, packed, coarsely chopped

1.  In a large, microwave-safe glass measuring cup, combine the sugar, water, and herbs. Microwave on high until the sugar dissolves, about 3 to 4 minutes. Let the mixture steep for 20 to 30 minutes. Then, strain the mixture into a bowl and let cool.  Use right away or store in a covered glass jar in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Blackberry Lavender Syrup
A few dried lavender buds from your garden or a health food store (or culinary lavender from Penzey's) add depth and interest to this easy-to-make syrup. The lavender makes dark berries taste "berry-er." Adapted from Heartland: The Cookbook
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
1 cup sugar

3/4 cup water

1 teaspoon dried lavender buds

1 cup blackberry jam
Fresh lemon juice
1.  In a large, microwave-safe glass measuring cup, combine the sugar, water, and lavender. Microwave on high until the sugar dissolves, about 3 to 4 minutes. Whisk in the blackberry jam. Let the mixture steep for 20 to 30 minutes. Season to taste with lemon juice, strain the mixture into a bowl, and let cool.  Use right away or store in a covered glass jar in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. 

Fresh Sweet Corn

All Ears
The climate of the Midwest is ideal for growing corn, which needs hot, humid summers and rich bottomland soil to be “knee high by the Fourth of July” and then ripen to sugary goodness. When it’s in season, people go nuts for it.
            Festivals like the Sweet Corn Festival in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, celebrate this delicacy every third week in August since 1953. Sure, there are the fire engine rides, a parade, a craft fair, and bingo.  But generations of sweet corn lovers—from grandparents to the newest grandchild--grab the salt shakers suspended by strings from a clothesline and gobble down ear after ear, right out of the pot.
Traditional sweet corn varieties like Silver Queen, Peaches and Cream, or Purdue Super Sweet barely make it in from the field before folks boil or grill it and eat right away. Our collective love of sweet corn is also reflected in the names of new varieties:  Temptation, Charm, Revelation, Sugar Pearl, Obsession, Passion, Gotta Have It, and Sweet Perfection. Who can resist?

“Sweet corn was so delicious, what could have produced it except sex? . . . 
People have wanted sex to be as good as sweet corn and have worked hard to improve it, and afterward they lay together in the dark and said. . . “That was so wonderful. . . . But it wasn’t as good as fresh sweet corn.” 
Garrison Keillor

Pan-Roasted Chicken Breasts with Tarragon Creamed Corn
Free range, organic chicken—a heritage breed, if you can find it—fresh sweet corn, and garden-grown tarragon provide the flavors in this new take on a farmhouse classic. A large, cast iron skillet, which can go from stovetop to oven, gives the crispest, most flavorful result. Cover the skillet with a lid or a sheet of aluminum foil to keep from making a big mess in your oven. Serve with a crisp, green salad and Farmhouse Yeast Rolls (adapted from Heartland: The Cookbook).
Varieties to try:  Heirloom Country Gentleman, Silver Queen, heirloom Boone County White, Butter and Sugar, or Peaches and Cream.
Serves 4
2 tablespoons Home Rendered Lard (page 000) or canola oil
4 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Tarragon Creamed Corn:
4 cups fresh or frozen sweet corn kernels
½ cup chopped green onions with some of the green
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon tarragon vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fresh tarragon sprigs to garnish
1. Preheat the oven to 475 °F. On the stovetop, heat a large cast iron skillet over high heat. While the pan heats up (this can take about 15 to 20 minutes), make sure the chicken is patted as dry as possible. Brush the skin side of the chicken breasts with the soft lard or oil. When the pan is smoking hot, carefully place the chicken, skin side down, and cover carefully with a lid of a sheet of aluminum foil. With heavy-duty oven mitts on, transfer the covered skillet to the oven. Roast for 10 minutes.
2. Carefully remove the hot pan from the oven and turn the chicken breasts. The skin should be beautifully golden and crisp. Generously season the skin side with salt and pepper. Cover and return the pan to the oven. Roast another 20 to 25 minutes or until an instant read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of a breast registers 160 degrees.
3. Meanwhile, make the creamed corn. In a nonstick skillet over medium heat, stir the corn, green onion, tarragon, and cream together. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the corn is tender, about 5 minutes for fresh corn, 10 to 12 minutes for frozen.  Stir in the vinegar and cook for 2 more minutes. Season to taste and keep warm.
4. Remove the chicken from oven, transfer to a plate, and tent with aluminum foil to keep warm. Over medium-high heat, whisk the white wine into the pan drippings and let reduce by half, about 2 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice, then season to taste.  To serve, place a chicken breast on each plate and nap with the pan jus. Spoon the creamed corn onto the plate, garnish with tarragon sprigs, and serve.